You have to give it to filmmakers who've deployed all sorts of gimmicks onto moviegoers over the past decades. Whether it's been 3-D, Sensurround or the wild and varied efforts of William Castle (such as wiring viewers' seats to deliver small electric shocks), gimmickry has been used in attempts to add something extra to the moviegoing experience.
One of the attempts that never caught on was utilizing the viewer's olfactory sense. The 1960 film "Scent of Mystery" tried pumping smells into the theater (via "Smell-O-Vision") to coincide with what was occurring on the screen, while John Waters' "Polyester" utilized scratch and sniff cards to do the same. For a variety of reasons, possibly including a rather unpleasant scent during the latter, the addition of smells just didn't catch Hollywood's and/or viewers' fancy.
That apparently didn't deter someone involved with "Rugrats Go Wild," the third animated picture featuring the pint-sized Nickelodeon characters that brings back such interactive cards. The gimmickry doesn't stop there, however (no, the title isn't "Rugrats GONE Wild," although the little ones do occasionally flash their bare tushies).
Rather, co-directors John Eng (making his feature debut) and Norton Virgien ("The Rugrats Movie") and screenwriter Kate Boutilier ("The Wild Thornberrys Movie," "Rugrats in Paris") have deployed the commingled strategy (used in many "Abbott and Costello Meet..." films as well as comic books and various TV shows over the years).
In short, they've mixed the Rugrats with fellow Nick show, "The Wild Thornberrys." Since that show includes a Dr. Dolittle type character, the 3rd gimmick (and one most promoted in the ads) is having none other than actor Bruce Willis voicing the Rugrats pooch, Spike, who up to this point has remained mute.
The latter is probably the most successful of the gimmicks, with Willis ("Tears of the Sun," "Bandits") giving the canine the right touch in terms of personality and vocal delivery. The less successful and surprisingly least used one is the interactive scratch 'n sniff cards.
Large flashing numbers in the corner of the screen instruct kids and others to scratch one of six such spots on their scented cards. The resultant smells do nothing for the film or viewing experience and are simply a marketing ploy since the cards must be picked up a participating burger joint that just so happens to be a promotional partner.
All of which leaves the character combo to carry the picture. If viewers are fans of both shows/movies, they'll likely be in hog heaven, while those who favor one set of characters over the other will still have enough material to satiate them.
Boutilier's story has the Thornberry cast doing their normal familial wildlife research thing, with the Rugrats crew just so happening to end up being marooned on the same supposedly deserted isle. Less than a third of the way through, members of both parties finally start interacting, with certain pairings obviously designed to play off both the differences and similarities of the various duos' characteristics and personalities.
Not surprisingly, there's little if any character growth or changes from the norm. With the Rugrats aimed at the younger set and the Thornberrys geared for slightly older viewers (as well as adults), the latter's characters and related story appealed more to me than that of the former that still revolves a great deal around diaper humor.
The filmmakers have been wise to include humor aimed at adults, mainly referring to older movies and TV shows including the obvious "Gilligan's Island" material as well as "Titanic," "Jaws," "The Poseidon Adventure," "Planet of the Apes" and more. Such material is cute and occasionally amusing, but it's never as clever as similar moments in the likes of "Finding Nemo" and pretty much dries up in the second half.
Several musical numbers are also present. While they're not in the same league as what Disney's animated offerings have delivered in the past, they're good and/or lively enough to keep kids (and some adults) entertained through the film's short 80-some minute runtime.
With little plot beyond the sets of characters bumping into each other (resulting in a few moments of peril and/or adventure), the film will appeal most to fans of either or both sets of characters, TV shows and movies.
For everyone else, that combo, along with the addition of Willis' voice and those scratch 'n sniff cards, might just reek of a desperate attempt to breathe some new life into both shows. I found "Rugrats Go Wild" marginally entertaining and thus rate it as a 5 out of 10.